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good luck. god bless. [applause] . .
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the turning point. a change debate. the role of government, free-market, future trajectory of our nation. in that debate to campaign commercials and political rhetoric abound. sound bites, the reactions dominate the news cycle. luckily for us in the midst of all of this a very serious thinker has written a very serious book. having overcome his education at harvard university and his upbringing in west virginia, today a towering figure of the conservative movement wrigley so . professor of government at claremont college. the kill editor with william f. buckley of keeping the tablet, modern american conservative thought.
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political ideas. indeed, his edition of the federalist papers published by segment is the best selling edition in the ad states. he contributes regularly to the opinion pages of the wall street journal, los angeles times, writes politics and policy review, national review, weekly standard among other journals. a senior fellow at the claremont institute, one of our closest thing tank allies which takes as its mission to restore the principles of the american founding. he is the intellectual muscle of that mission. he teaches in two of the programs. the program and the lincoln fellow program. most important, he is the editor of the claremont review books, the quarterly publication of the claremont institute. perhaps you are familiar with it. if you're not, i encourage you to be so and, perhaps to my even
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to subscribe. it is by far the most eloquent, well written, and should i say attractive reviews of books we will list in the united states today and is so because it is edited by charles custer. he has been thinking, teaching, and writing quite elytra to eloquently for some time. and he has now dne something very liberal, if not downright revolutionary witches he has written a book why is it based on president obama's own ridings across beaches, and interviews and set out to understand and explain him as he understands and explains himself as a result he has come to the conclusion that it turns out that liberals understand president obama and neither do conservatives. the result is the most serious and provocative assessment yet of what iraq liberalism. i am the change. barack obama and the crisis of liberalism. this is a book that by its
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persuasive argument should and i believe will transform the left and the right under standing of modern liberalism, how we look at past, present, and as we shall see its future. please join me in modem and your friend of the heritage foundation and a different of mine and my teacher. [applause] >> thank you very much. improperly discounted your warm praise of me if you had mentioned you're my student at the very beginning. instead of at the end. but it is always a pleasure to be here. the stewardship of the simon center for american studies here has been stellar, and its heritage now speaks out on a variety of philosophical as well as practical questions of the day in a way that has changed
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the conversation in washington. it is also always an honor for me to be here in the house that had built to at fuller, one of the great figures of modern conservatism, and he really build this place. he did build it. from nothing into the a great empire that it is today. and i also would send greetings to the other end who is certainly one of the most effective attorney-general said to my attorneys general i should say of the united states and many, many years and two courageously launched the whole movement for original lesson in constitutional object. well, i am here to say something about the argument of this book which is, you can have heard,
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call i am the change. and the title is meant to bring out president obama's louis the 14 side. louis the 14 supposedly said, i am the state. mr. obamacare very close in a press conference to say i am the change. the title is actually from -- a suggestion of my editor and publisher. i had entertained another possibility, which it actually was suggested to be my my friend , namely barack obama, what the hell were we thinking? as opposed to some of my conservative colleagues and friends, i don't think we get very far by labeling the president obama a socialist or by trying to trace his foreign
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origins or his secret muslim devotions, nor do i say even that we greatly eliminate things by focusing on him as a kind of start world ideologue as my old friend argues in his movie and in two books about obama. at think it is more fair to begin and more useful in the end -- excuse any -- excuse me. to begin by admitting obama is what he calls himself, namely a progressive or liberal. and the rest of the title is on barack obama and the crisis of liberalism. i don't mean by this the kind of crisis that liberals like which is the kind of national emergency that invites the expansion of government, but rather crisis in the old-fashioned sense of a turning point. i think liberalism is
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approaching a moment, to use a word that president obama does like, in which it will either go out of business or become something much more radical and on like its former self or at least it's best self. obama is certainly to my think, the latest avatar of liberalism. up to his neck in its problems, both fiscal and philosophical as i will argue this afternoon. but first we have to answer the question, what is liberalism. and for many decades after the advent of this movement to the american republic did not know what it hit it. it took awhile to try to figure out what modern american liberalism really was. conservatives in particular have had difficulty defining their opponent in american politics.
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some conservative intellectuals from the very beginning of the movement in the 50's, let's check in the 1950's have fought. some have argued that liberalism was a kind of emanation of medieval nominalism. that was richard weaver's contention or that it is a continuation of the french revolution on american soil. that is russell kirk and his school. or that it represents the regimenting spirit of industrialization, the southern agrarians and others took that as the essence of liberalism. argued that the universalism of lincoln and the anti slavery cause was at the heart of the deal logical bearing of modern liberalism and, of course, there was always the school that saw it as the work of satan. [laughter] that is the church lady school.
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also, whitaker chambers to a certain degree. now, there may be some truth and several of these diagnoses, but i don't think any of them are adequate. on the other hand, liberals, too, i think, have had an unusual relationship with their own history and principles. if you look around at books written by liberals about liberalism by eric alderman, many others you will see that the favorite account of themselves out is that liberalism is really nothing more than, as president obama said in his acceptance speech the other day quoting fdr, liberalism is nothing but old persistent experimentation. liberalism is a pragmatic approach, just trying to find out what works to cure our social ills. it is completely on theoretical and i'm a logical.
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in fact, liberalism, if you listen to liberals distaste, seems downright conservative. all it is trying to do, they insist, is keep our political system in sync with our economic and social evolution. and in their view it is the conservatives who are ideologues'. we have these terrible series like trickle-down economics and originals and. but the liberals modest account of themselves is, of course, very self interested. it is designed to shield them from charges of radicalism. if you believe them the only alternative to their living constitution is a debt on, one that belongs to and cannot escape from a world that is dead and gone, to use justice brennan's famous formulation. if you want an 18th-century
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errors last constitution it is going to be a dead one, they say. if you wanted to live it will be a liberal one. it will be a living constitution , as they define it. at the same time that they are you that they are a modest little shop, nothing too ambitious going on there, they boast of the liberal vision, liberal values command, of course, a very important word in this administration, transformation. president obama, one of his more famous utterance is is that where five days away from fundamental a transforming the united states of america. that does not sound like pragmatism or like on the logical adjustments to changing circumstances. so, this modest account of liberalism is a form of conservatism and capital truth. in fact to my would suggest it is something more like a noble line meant to protect the actual
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story of liberalism. add the -- as a political phenomenon american liberalism is almost exactly 100 years old. it emerged in the progressive movement that broke into our politics in 1912, that famous election won by woodrow wilson. liberalism progress, as i have understand it, across american politics in three gray waves that dominated the last century and for convenience sake i will just point to them. the new freedom. that was wilson's administration and program, the new deal, of course, and the great society, of course along with its tragic course, the new left. each wave set out to transform america as the names suggest. if you want to create a great society that implies this is a pretty lousy society. if you want to create a new deal and implies there's something rotten deal deal.
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you need to lift up america, change it, transforming, and liberalize it. this has been the constant agenda of liberalism for many generations now. obama program is really the fourth installment of these successive waves of transformation. now, we have to notice that each one of these waves was halted. each came to an end. by 1920 progressivism was a spent force. by 1936 or at the latest 1938 the new deal was effectively over a home. dr. new deal had been replaced by a doctor when the war, as fdr put it. and, of course, in the 60's the great society began basically after the assassination of kennedy in late 1963 and was effectively over by 1966 or so. so from the conservative point
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of view we ought to be encouraged that each one of these waves was stopped, sometimes by foreign more, sometimes simply by reaction at home, sometimes by both, but we have to notice as well that in each case the transformation resumed in the following generation. so that's a fact, that the generations to lay, liberalism resumes its for march auto depress or at least humble conservatives thinking about the problem. but all told that 20th-century was very much the liberal century, as my late friend, tom silver, used to call it. conservatism, a self-conscious intellectual and political movement did not appear on the scene until the first two waves of liberalism had done there work. national review was founded in 1955. well after the deal. conservatism major political
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victories, at least so far, came late in the 20th-century, 1980 with the election of ronald reagan in 1994 was newt gingrich revolution sweeping control the house away from the democrats. so in a way conservatism is appearing only in the last act of 20th-century politics, and the rest of it was dominated and deeply formed by liberalism itself. all the alluvial celts from this stream of liberalism deposited itself and barack obama's formation. the crisis of liberalism is a obama's crisis, and so rather than, as i do in the book, a spiny and criticizing each wave or each stage of the liberal advance i thought it better today to concentrate on obama's on the appropriation of them.
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i think my book is the first to put the story of american liberalism between two covers and to take seriously barack obama's culminating or at any rate critical part in it. now, to begin with obama calls himself a progressive. he said this in the 2008 campaign, as did hillary clinton interestingly. they would prefer to be called progressive liberal. now, who are the progress is? well, following woodrow wilson, the progressive movement copperas a school wycherley believed in the inevitability of human progress. and by literally i mean literally. as opposed so what 90 percent of the speaker's mean, figuratively . they literally believed in the inevitability of human progress and that moral and political advance was eventually
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inseparable from material and technological advance. human progress was inevitable because of the the new doctrine or discovery concerning history, that history had a mind of its own and that it had a destination in mind from its very beginnings to its culmination or completion. the german philosopher was the greatest philosopher of history in the sense of the term. american liberalism always had more than his followers and credit which is unfortunate thing for americans. let me offer to potations that will characterize this kind of progressivism that infiltrated american politics. when he was the president of princeton university, woodrow wilson said something that he repeated to the people when he
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was running for election in 1912 and even make sure it was included in the volume of his and its beaches from the 1912 campaign called the new freedom. wilson said that the objective of college education should be to make the sons as much on like their fathers as possible. think about that for a moment. to make this was as much of like their fathers as possible. not because the fathers were not splendid fellows and not to be sure because he was averse to cash in their tuition checks for their sons, but because the fathers, as he explained it, necessarily belong to a war that was dying, and the sons had to be fitted for a better world that was. wilson implied that the whole reorientation of moral and
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political education from devotion to the best that had been thought and said and done in the past to the dreams of a better, essentially unprecedented world to come was absolutely essential in american higher education. the only way to study the past was as an anticipation of something much grander to come. compared to the future, he declared, the present is as nothing. the past, he implied, was less than nothing. now, the american founders viewed the great figures of the past more or less as contemporaries because human nature did not change, they thought. they tried at least at their best to understand the past as it had understood itself before trying to understand it differently or better.
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hence the fathers were not ruled out as sources of wisdom. and it was even advisable to trust people over 30. and thus, you could have a country with founding fathers whose ancient wisdom would nonetheless be highly relevant to every contemporary problem and to which you would want to revert in order to think about dealing with contemporary problems. for the progresses, this notion of taking all men everywhere at any time in history as in a sense sharing in nature, could not be more benighted and tless. they assumed, because we come later we see better and farther and are therefore wiser. when wilson warned against the
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president wilson warned against blind worship of the constitution, he was the first president to criticize the constitution. he meant to rule out really the habit of generating a lot, looking up to the law, the rule of law and above all to the law of loss in the constitution. and so for them, you can see this in the where woodrow wilson trees the federalist. he talks about it all the time but as an acquaintance with the. he never studied it carefully as one might in many colleges and universities today because he is soon to the meaning of the federalist was with the federalists did, accomplished, the works that preceded from a, the doctrines of the federalist or optional. they belonged to the world that had been surpassed by contemporary american, and this was a principle that the presses
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supplied rather versus the to religion as well as to education and the politics. that is why president obama is not embarrassed to say, as he says in his second book, the audacity of hope, that he believes a living constitution. the phrase, and to a large extent the idea come from wilson . that turn sounds so green, so natural, so organic. one of those averments the laws that republicans are always opposing. that's a deliberate distraction. a living constitution, the principle of the constitution is not natural selection but artificial selection. the theory is are the reasoning is we have a call to the point where we can control our own evolution, we can take charge of
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society's development as a whole , so the living constitution, as they both, i think, would describe it, is really a mandate for experts to take charge of government, to experiment on the sovereign people rather than simply represent them, to build a new state and breed, as it were, a new people. it is constitutional eugenics. amid that seem a -- flex of a living constitution unless changes the law of light, it is puzzling and revealing to discover that something is a permanent, even in the living constitution. here's my second quotation. from president obama speaking
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about his health care bill. i am not the first president to take up this caused, he told congress in september 2009, but i am determined to be the last. again, you have to ponder that he is determined to be the last to deal with national health care. in other words, he considers his law progressive and the progress to be irreversible. some things cannot be repealed, cannot be decisively modified, limited demand this is true of the basic programs of the welfare state and of obamacare as the newest addition to that on some will. this is the living constitution in action, one might say. to the extent that the actual constitution, the written constitution would overrule or might overrule obamacare, then it is a written constitution that is unconstitutional.
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because what is really -- what the meaning of a living constitution is, it is the small state constitution, government as we do it now. and trying to turn back the clock on obamacare, to repeal obamacare would violate that fundamental law of social development that you cannot go back according to liberalism. and that -- the real government now is the programs, the ensemble of programs in the modern state, and you have to find a way to interpret the written constitution to accommodate them rather than trying them against the standard of the written constitution. now, obamacare is, i think an essential piece of legislation for the evaluation of obama's presidency. and undoubtedly it marks a triumph of liberalism, alone it would qualify obama's face for
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the liberal mount rushmore. liberals had been lusting after national health care for 100 years since teddy roosevelt and the progressive party platform of 1912 called for it. the second bill of rights. so for generations liberals have sought to this holy grail, and on the obama was able to find it, to deliver, to create the first comprehensive national health care plan not tarry just at the poor or the sec or the old but everyone, the 100% solution or at least in theory a 100% solution. now, in this sense, of course, obamacare is the latest triumph of entitlement rights. one of the new deal signal contributions to liberalism as we know it today.
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entitlement rights means socioeconomic rates, as they are sometimes called, like the right to health care or to a job or to a vacation from the job or to security in old age. all those kinds of socio-economic writes that demand programs that have transformed and three center our politics. together these implied a new view of the social contract. the old view pervading that declaration of independence was that individuals have preexisting natural rights or god-given rights. individuals, by unanimous consent, formed a social compact and then set up government by majority vote to secure these rights and the people safety and happiness. but fdr new view, which became infertile to liberalism was that the contract was between the
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people, as he put it, and their rulers. according to ham the people agreed to give the government power in exchange for the government giving the people bites. individuals, as such, you notice, drop out of this contract, and within individual rights. under the new deal theory individuals get whatever rights they receive as members of the people or of a group that is part of the people. in short, all individual rights in this theory are actually group rights. and so this theory of a contract not among individuals, but between the people as a kind of pre-existing whole and their rulers or the government is much more like matt mccarthy than it is like the declaration of independence. it is strangely an almost medieval theory, which is just
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what hayek put his finger on in the title of his famous book the road to serfdom. there was a kind of return to a liberalism, a much older, more statist few of the contract in which celebrities are grants of relief from government. ..
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>> uk premiums and
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eventually you get your benefits. there should be a mandate to make sure. but the spirit is the social solidarity and the mutual risk-taking. the most people extract more benefits than they contribute to the programs. hence, this argument does not go very far. if the rich can make the system go, in reality who pays are they on suckers who are taxed who pay for a good standard of benefits for retired people but may nazis
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such benefits for themselves when it this same situation. this is the problem has mrs. thatcher e equipped we are running out of other people's money. finally, obama is a child of the sixties. literally. born 1961 to the interracial couple his father was sent and technology list and that is undeniable his mother was said to be far merck trial who earned a doctorate of cultural anthropology heard pfizer was john dewey's granddaughter. you cannot make this up. four obama's 1960's ran
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through the early '80s. until the success of ronald reagan became clear. obama's suffered on the civil-rights movement and of the new left. he determined to experience them vicariously. he tried drugs as he confessed and hence autobiography, "dreams from my father." rallied against south africa , political speeches, community organizers, tried to get in touch with the black experience a and in general search for meaning to use a formulation he could not to reject. he shared the 60s existentialist mood everyone must find his own meaning in
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life and find his own way. there is no meeting out there zero or objective source that one can point* to zero or rely on. he shared the determination to make history rather than and let it happen or to redeem in justice. roswell obama share the post modernist suspicion of the universal values are not universal and probably not true. one can see these ideas that work in "dreams from my father" the highly fictionalized memoir. politicians notoriously live.
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not a surprise. no future president ever boasted he was making stuff up to tell the story he -- the way he wanted to tell it. self creation is a very important word pro in his early as speeches and a presidential candidacy dead in springfield somehow found the location to compare himself to abraham lincoln and and both gave speeches in springfield. [laughter] if you look at what he says it is revealing. to him abraham lincoln stands for self creation.
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the ability to restart your life to be whatever you want to be to choose your own values and pursue your own dreams, principles. i am not sure exactly that is how he would have seen himself but keeping in with the approach nine talky understood himself but to the use you could make of them in your own time. here is where obama's goes before partly because he doubts there are standards by which to measure progress. the profit leader, the great
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hero of political writing fdr, jfk lbj, and others, the profit leader are forced to tell stories about the future but can't if his will to power is sufficiently strong. if history has no happy ending at, no guaranteed values and the leader may have no choice and to -- imposes values so liberal loathsome not only has a fiscal crisis but a philosophical crisis of on guard liberals tend no
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longer to believe liberalism true or bright obama it is not a post modernist. but his confusion about truth visible in his discussion of slavery and declaration of independence in "audacity of hope" composite -- combined with the four of makes a harrowing combination. sonoco "i am the change" as mr. obama almost said every change is an improvement. a movement that began promising a new freedom and a new deal beyond necessity runs from the necessity of paying its own bills.
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a movement of complete spiritual fulfillment including the right to choose one's own values now confesses no lifestyle could be better than another. the movement that led to such face and its leaders' ability now faces a perilous future with or without barack obama. thank you very much. [applause] the spot ahead
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>> mr. kessler. if obama is successful to have a second term could this be a permanent change in america in society for the welfare state expansion? >> very likely. one can be assured he will do everything in his power to prevent any substantial modification of obamacare. he is different than bill clinton. when hillarycare failed in
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the first term be accommodated that reality and famously became the center-left politician and trying to elated to move right and got rid of large legislative initiatives and settled for other kinds of reform. it is clear between obama and clinton there is no love lost. and in particular obama holds clinton and contempt he thinks he is the only politician in recent democratic history to have the chance to transform america. the others did not have the talent or the opportunity. he blew it.
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because of his personal and disciplined and clinton believed the reagan revolution was here to stay and he had to accommodate it to survive. obama never believed that. he believes there ragged revolution is transient and obama revolution is here to stay. you'll never catch him as saying the era of big government is over. he believes it is not. to the era it is fading it is so that to it has arrived. as he read said he leaves he thinks history favors an expansive state even though
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the faster it expands the quicker the crisis comes fiscally. he tells you this in his speeches and books. we were not elected justice solve recessionary economic downturn. we were elected to change history. the reason why he spent his first two years pursuing obamacare he could not figure out how to do more on the economy but would risk the election to do something permanent to expand state and realize more of liberalism was kohl's. to that extent he is doing
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with the marxist call heightening the contradiction. in a certain way bidding for the crisis to come and excel rate. i thain because he will find a way to compromise and his second term. but the game he is playing in its ideological them that. he would not reject the chance to have a fiscal crisis in which you have stark alternatives. taxes must go up with the future promises made zero or we must fundamentally trim the welfare state.
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that is the opportunity to sweeten the economy to move from 19 or 25% of gdp every year that would have a transforming effect on the american character. >> what happens then if he is defeated? >> if is followed by conservatives. it is not impossible that romney could win to bring in the republican senate to maintain republican control of the house and confidently and expeditiously set out to
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replace and repeal will obamacare to undo other things done by the obama administration. if ass and republicans don't run away. and at the polls 2014 and 2016 confirm the move them liberalism is spiritual. they have the old religion because they believe they're on the right side of history. it history turns against them than the ground of the confidence is shaken. in this respect not unlike communism. it rest on the confidence that in the end there will be universal revolution and
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with the stateless society. but when they begin to doubt that to the foundation crumbled the men the structure asthma acid and etfs megaton as the soviet union disappeared before our eyes. it is unlikely because i think it has more vitality than communism, more democratic, more connected to the people, more flexible , and has a lot more fight in it. >> >> if you could tell us from the perspective of someone
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who is a proponent from a living constitution comment if he is a true believer deviating from the original intent something that is very desirable, high debt is he justify? where do you draw the line in a serious self assessment of the living constitution? >> in wilson's hands the living constitution is not what the judges are concerned with all branches of government pursuit. for him merely the executive more than the courts his
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idea it is the president would be in the lead and in day karzai parliamentary way drag the courts with him. liberals have always, and i write to about this at length of fur to accounts of themselves. deviating from our original intent applies it to produce a living constitution that we interpret that has to be flexible and able to meet the needs of the day. and the theory has to be emptied out to and the new theory put into the old bottle.
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these are two contradictory accounts. more fundamental and serious is you have to change the accepted theory of what government is for to charge officials with the purpose and the authority and the understanding to keep it current. on this question, will send it is democratic. his idea is you never get too far ahead of where the people are. he was a critic of the
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french revolution and he thought robespierre was crazy because he was too far ahead of what french society could absorb. and the kind of leader you wanted to be was tied to the sentiments of the people. you would lead them to be out front but not to impose a vision on them that is not timely. what does that mean that practice? especially of the least democratic branch? what we have seen that will said did not anticipate was under certain circumstances
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judges would take the theory and run with it with abortion-rights come that capital punishment, other examples come to mind because they had no where ganic lake. i don't think will send foresaw that as both an embarrassment and the opportunity for liberalism. >> i find it interesting you classify obama's says a liberal progressive. i want to get your thoughts the could use the dead divide with social democrats
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and it seems with community organizing his ideological roots seem to be more social democratic them the role progressive. >> the difficulty this he gets support from labor unions to be sure. they're mostly public employees. the connection to labor in the traditional social democratic way and democratic machine is very tenuous. i read and as much more academic, and ideological
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ideological, interested in a new class of progressive unions to the extent they are progressive and not so much of other kinds of unions. the base of his appeal is to groups that loathsome thing to government and a cutting edge lifestyle. vivid particularly, divorced , wido wed mother's gay-rights, hispanic, the black caucus's he has assembled a coalition in some respects may resemble
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old labor politics but in spirit is quite different. >> you mention in your colleague, you wrote a book never even of 40 tells conservatives we need to except the reality of the welfare state. but on the left and they will need to except to limit themselves. if you say it is not likely they will vanish overnight but there will be a reckoning of intellectual exhaustion, what is the line they will drive to would mitt the old project? >> that would be the occasion of furious and fighting.
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the fiscal crisis is a moral crisis. you have made these promises generations. and such a way to intimate these are permanent binding commitments. the point* of fdr calling them the second bill of rights just as important as the first. you would not say give up on free-speech it costs too much but you find the money because it is a duty. but there also people on the left that say this is a high-risk strategy. take half a loaf and compromise to change the terms.
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efforts have been made but i say because of the minority of the gap of funding it cannot be finessed as easy as social security was in the '80s. they will have day tremendous fight to among themselves it will be interesting to see what conservatives say. when alexander hamilton and read about the public credit he made it explicit. 11 is can we borrow? second, our our promises good? that we will use the money for the purpose we borrow it
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for. we will wisely administer the debt. those are tightly interwoven of the of welfare state. one of my friends solution was to move towards means testing so in a presumably rich country and getting richer, individuals should pay for more of their own benefits. over the past 30 years society is richer. look 100 years phenomenally more. his idea is to shrink the welfare state to free up people to make there own arrangements.

Book TV
CSPAN October 7, 2012 11:00pm-12:00am EDT

Charles Kesler Education. (2012) 'I Am the Change Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism.'

TOPIC FREQUENCY Wilson 7, America 5, Woodrow Wilson 4, Clinton 4, Obamacare 2, Us 2, United States 2, Abraham Lincoln 2, Claremont 2, Uk 1, Hence 1, Weaver 1, Mr. Obamacare 1, Charles Custer 1, William F. Buckley 1, Wycherley 1, Jfk Lbj 1, Harvard University 1, West Virginia 1, Los Angeles 1
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